Day after, Obama aides downplay gay marriage campaign move

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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White House officials are trying to dampen public debate over President Barack Obama’s risky support for same-sex marriage, and his flacks are trying to change the subject by attacking Gov. Mitt Romney with a media report that he participated in a rough prank 47 years ago.

Obama’s support for marriage changes won’t be a key campaign issue, spokesman Jay Carney announced May 10 during a press conference en route to a record fund-raising event in Hollywood.

“The president’s focus … has been, and will continue to be, on jobs and the economy,” Carney said in a midday press conference. “It was his No. 1 priority when he ran for office, for this office, and it has been his priority since he took the oath of office,” Carney said en route to a Hollywood fundraiser where he is expected to meet gay donors.

On the fundraising trail, the president hinted at Wednesday’s decision during a speech at the second of three West Coast fundraisers that he’s holding May 10, according to pool reports. He did not mention gay marriage during the first fundraiser’s speech, although pool reporters were not allowed to stay for the fundraisers’ subsequent question-and-answer session.

“You should be able to give your kids the chance to do even better than you, no matter who you are, no matter where you come from, no matter what you look like, no matter your last name, no matter who you love,” he said in Seattle Thursday, as the audience cheered.

Obama’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee are also touting the decision to Democratic base-voters in emails, tweets, videos and fundraising appeals.

The effort to downplay public debate comes as Democratic and GOP political consultants try to calculate the political damage caused by Obama’s support for legalization of same-sex marriages. Many experts predict Obama will lose a potentially decisive slice of voter support in economically hard-hit swing-states such as Florida, Ohio, Colorado, North Carolina and Virginia.

Many swing voters in those states believe marriage is built around raising children — not the preferences of childless-adults — and is especially important during an economic recession.

“It’s obviously not a political plus that he was forced to do this,” said Maggie Gallagher, co-founder of the National Organization for Marriage.

“The big question is whether it will cut into his support in his base among African-Americans,” she told The Daily Caller. “We just don’t know, but clearly Obama did not relish having to find out [and] that’s why he delayed this [decision] and evaded it as long as he could.”

In a recognition of their voting clout, Obama used part of his White House statement to soften the political impact of his announcement on swing voters.

He said he believed the issue should be settled by states — not by the federal government — and that he changed his mind about marriage because of his Christian beliefs and because of the monogamous gay parents that he has met.

Carney’s additional efforts to downplay the decision with voters came as Obama sought to highlight the decision to gay donors.

Carney’s statements were delivered en route to May 10 Hollywood fundraisers that are expected to raise more than $14 million. On May 14, Obama is slated to hold another fundraisers with gay supporters in New York.

Obama’s website also released videos slamming Romney’s support for traditional marriage, and his opposition to political demands of D.C.-based gay advocates.

Obama’s trip to California prompted jeers from Republicans officials, who said he was hanging out with Hollywood stars rather that trying to alleviate the nation’s record unemployment, record debt and stalled growth.

In cooperation with Carney, Obama’s supporters went on the offensive by using a Washington Post article on Romney’s mid-1960s school days to slam the likely Republican nominee.

The article highlighted an episode in 1965 when Romney and some school friends used scissors to cut a fellow student’s long, dyed-blond hair. (RELATED: Cracks in the Washington Post story on Romney’s prank emerge)

The youth announced he was gay some years later, and died in 2004.

Democrat flacks quickly used the event to portray Romney as a bully or thug, although the article showed Romney’s ability to make friends with a wide variety of students. (RELATED: Romney ‘not too concerned about WaPo story on high school years)

“Just a thought … a gang assaulting someone with scissors is just that — an assault — not a prank,” Brad Woodhouse, the Democratic National Committee’s main spokesman.

That slam came shortly after Woodhouse used Twitter to try to paint Romney as less mainstream than former President George W. Bush: “In 1965 George W. Bush chastised classmates for calling someone queer [but] In 1965 @MittRomney led an assault on a classmate presumed to be gay,” Woodhouse alleged in a 1:24 p.m. tweet. “George heard it and, most uncharacteristically, snapped: ‘Shut up.’”

Woodhouse offered no evidence that Bush’s response was uncharacteristic.

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